•MIAMI • Tiger Woods has warned the new wave of young golfers like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas that it would be a folly to discount veterans like himself and Phil Mickelson at next month's Masters.
Woods drew the biggest galleries during practice for this week's Valspar Championship. He is keen to build on his 12th place at the Honda Classic, his most recent event after he returned to action from spinal fusion surgery.
The former world No. 1 applauded Mickelson's play-off win at last week's World Golf Championship in Mexico over PGA Championship winner Thomas.
"I thought it was great. He's been playing well. I mean he played well at the end of last year and got off to a great start this year. He's been in contention a few times," Woods said of the 47-year-old Mickelson.
"What Phil is doing is showing us we can still do it later on in our careers. Davis (Love III) won at 51, Phil at 47. There are a few guys who can do it late in their careers.
"For me, I'm ecstatic to have a chance to play again, compete and win golf tournaments."
Woods, 42, returned to the gym to build up his fitness after his last tournament two weeks ago.
"I've only played 10 rounds," said Woods, who missed the cut at Riviera and tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines in his first two events of the year. "People are saying that I've been erratic, a little inconsistent. But 10 rounds, it's not that many."
The American said he was fine-tuning his game ahead of a visit to Augusta to prepare for the April 5-8 Masters, which would mark his first appearance in a Major since 2015.
"I just want to keep progressing. Making small changes, small tweaks. I was able to do it the last tournament I played in and hopefully, I can make up a few small tweaks this week," Woods said.
The 14-time Major winner added it might not be wise to dismiss players who are not necessarily in form but enjoyed success at Augusta.
"Jordan (Spieth) has always played well. (But) I'm not going to put it out of the realm if Freddie (Couples) feels good, he's still in the mix. Bernhard (Langer) is still in the mix. Phil, myself, Bubba (Watson)... we know how to play the golf course. It fits us," Woods added.
Spieth, the 2015 Valspar and Masters champion, and who will tee it up alongside Woods in the first two rounds at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course, felt Mickleson's triumph could spur Woods on.
"Seeing Phil win was really cool for Tiger to recognise, 'I've got all this time to be able to get to that high level'," the world No. 4 said. "It wouldn't be surprising if come Masters time, he's in the hunt on Sunday."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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